MA Candidate La Rainne Pasion was recently invited to attend the Council on Foreign Relations’ 2019 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. Below, she reflects on her experience interacting with students, early career professionals, and foreign policy experts from underrepresented backgrounds at the 2-day event in Washington, DC.
“There are very few rooms in DC that look like this,” Chike Aguh, Principal of the McChrystal Group, told the audience during a panel about working ‘in the field.’ I glanced around and realized I couldn’t remember the last time I was part of such a varied group—diverse in age, color, gender, experience. It felt special to be invited to such a distinctive conference.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Conference on Diversity in International Affairs takes place every year to recognize that, while the ethnic and racial makeup of the United States has changed immensely in the last century, the ethnic and racial makeup of foreign policy has not. The conference aimed to connect students and early career professionals from underrepresented backgrounds to opportunities in international affairs. We attended networking meetings, panels on job hunting, and graduate school informational events. I was also able part in a session on podcasting where I learned how to boost the content and outreach of our student-run podcast, The New Context, and met accomplished podcasters with their own niche in foreign policy: Bunmi Akinnusotu, creator of What in the World? and Travis Adkins, creator of On Africa. They spoke about how to weave personal narratives into episodes.
I found the aforementioned panel about reflections on working ‘in the field’ the most helpful and relevant to my goal of establishing a career in international affairs. I heard from Chike Aguh; Viviana Lopez Green, Senior Director of UnidosUS; and Kris Clark, Foreign Service Officer in the US Department of State about their experiences and advice. What really stuck with me was Aguh’s recommendation that when looking for a job, you should ask yourself, “What is the problem I wish to solve?” as opposed to “What position do I want to have?” It’s a great approach to the work we do and prioritizes the reasons why we got into this field in the first place.
Of course, it was also amazing to hear from keynote speaker Stacey Abrams, Founder of Fair Fight Action and Former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. She spoke about the thin line between domestic and foreign policy and how one must understand the relationship between the two in order to be an effective leader. She also urged everyone to be critical of America’s deep reliance on foreign labor, and instead of being preoccupied with the next elections, to worry about the next twenty years of US existence. Finally, she added that foreign service corps should reflect the composition of America and its values.
Overall, I had an incredible time hearing from experts and professionals, and even made connections with undergraduate students to help mentor them with grad school concerns. I’m looking forward to next year’s conference and hope to be invited back!”